Editors Forum Ghana supports probe into assault of journalist by security agents

The Editors Forum, Ghana (EFG), says it strongly supports calls for an investigation into the assault and arrest of the Daily Guide newspaper journalist, Gifty Lawson and two of her colleagues when covering a high profile cocaine court case in Accra. The group said in a statement signed by its Chairperson, Ms Ajoa Yeboah-Afari on January 16, 2012. Read the full text of the statement …
The Editors Forum, Ghana, strongly supports the calls for an investigation into the circumstances of the assault, indecent handling and arrest of the Daily Guide journalist, Gifty Lawson and two of her colleagues, so that punitive action can be taken against those found guilty of any breaches of the law and the rights of the victims.

News of the unprovoked assault and maltreatment of Ms Lawson, a photo-journalist of the Daily Guide newspaper, reportedly by some officers of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) at the premises of the Accra High Court last week, on January 12, no doubt came as a shock to many Ghanaians because people thought that such barbaric acts of impunity were a thing of the past.

The eye-witness accounts of a group of men, law officers, molesting a woman, to the extent of tearing her clothes and exposing her underwear on the premises of a court of justice, while uniformed policemen reportedly looked on unconcerned, surely put the whole country to shame. One thought that Ghana’s track record of steady democratic advancement and freedom of expression was comprehensive and an achievement that other countries would be proud to emulate.

In the aftermath of the widely reported nasty incident, we find the silence of the Presidency, the Ministry of Information and other stakeholders very disturbing.

For, it was only a few days ago that President J A Mills hosted journalists at the Castle to dialogue with them. The event was seen as an expression of the President’s commitment to open government, freedom of the press and appreciation of the importance of the Fourth Estate of the realm. Why then the silence from the Presidency in this matter?

However, we are highly gratified that bodies such as the Ghana TUC and the Pentecostal Council have added their voices to the earlier calls for a probe and punishment of the offenders by the Ghana Journalists Association, the National Media Commission and the Media Foundation for West Africa.

The EFG, a group of editors, senior journalists and media educators affiliated to the Ghana Journalists Association, urges the media community to work together to ensure that such an incident never happens again.

In our view, the attack of a defenceless journalist by the BNI operatives has tarnished Ghana’s reputation and has without doubt earned our country an unenviable slot in the negative rankings of the international media watchdogs. The EFG, therefore, urges the Government to ensure that the offenders are brought to book as soon as possible to serve as a deterrent. Ghana’s hard-won democratic credentials demand no less.

And what was Ms Lawson’s crime for which she was treated in that dastardly manner? She was on assignment for her paper, covering the court case involving DSP Gifty Mawuenyegah Tehoda. As a photo-journalist, Ms Lawson’s assignment was to take photographs for her paper, for publication for its readers. As far as we know, the court had not barred reporters from covering the proceedings, nor barred the taking of photos of the people involved. So then what was Ms Lawson’s offence?

Or are we to understand that when it comes to officers of the law involved in court cases, they are off-limits?

If journalists carrying out their lawful, professional duties cannot rely on the support, assistance and, more importantly, protection, from State Security outfits, then in our view, it should be a matter for great concern for everybody in this country. The reported attack on the two other security staff of the paper, who were assigned to protect Ms Lawson, is equally reprehensible.

Another disappointing aspect of the atrocious incident is the reported claim by the National Security Coordinator, Col. Larry Gbevlo-Lartey, that Ms Lawson was not assaulted – despite confirmation of the brutal attack by other media houses and others who witnessed the attack on the defenceless woman.

One had expected that when in the course of their duty journalists encounter brutality from misguided elements who believe that shooting the messenger is the solution to the problem, the journalists should be able to count on protection from the police and other state security operatives. It is a distressing state of affairs when the supposed protectors turn perpetrators of such maltreatment.

And what has happened to the voices of the other religious communities that in recent times have been so stridently vocal on other issues, notably on homosexuality?

Assaults of any kind to prevent the media from carrying out their responsibilities to the society are an infringement of the people’s rights as well as the freedom of expression guaranteed by our national Constitution. They also constitute a setback for the advancement of the society as a whole.

It is for this reason that the EFG calls on civil society, all lovers of free expression and human rights to add their voices to the calls for an investigation and punishment of the BNI officers involved.

Further, we urge all media houses to show sustained solidarity with the Daily Guide in this matter because a brutal attack aimed at preventing one journalist from doing his or her lawful work of keeping the public informed is an attack on the freedom of the media guaranteed by the national Constitution.

Date: January 16, 2012
Source: Ghana Business News, http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2012/01/16/editors-forum-ghana-supports-calls-for-probe-into-assault-on-female-journalist-by-security-agents/

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